This play was a source of a particular experience in my life, one that still affects how I think about theater and actors to this day.
I was 17 years old, it was my last year of high school, and I had chosen theater as one of my electives. One of the great advantages of that class was that we were given group passes for the French theater season of the National Arts Center. We were going to see four shows over the course of the school year. L’hiver de force was the last of these plays. Based on a novel by Réjean Ducharme, it starred Marie Tifo, who’s kind of a Big Deal actress in Québec. Every one was excited to go.
And then, on the day of the expedition, the teacher tells the class that the performance is cancelled because Marie Tifo is sick. No exchange. (There may have been a refund, we weren’t told, so I guess I’ll never know.)
Most of the students had very similar reactions: “That’s not fair! We’re getting robbed!” “They can’t just cancel like that, because one person is sick. That’s unprofessional. It’s irresponsible.” “Who does she think she is, not even getting an understudy? What a diva!”
Me from the present realizes that the last one is a rather unfair assessment. If anybody is to blame, it is the director: he (or she, I can’t remember nor look it up) should have made sure that there was an understudy. I don’t blame Ms Tifo for getting sick, of course, but you have to have a contingency plan.
To take the most extreme example I can think of, in the first week of January, this year, 12 people in the Matilda the Musical cast were down with the flu. That’s just under half of the cast. That would have been a decent reason to cancel the show. And yet they didn’t. They called the understudies, they called the swings, actors were playing multiple parts (one actor even played five different parts in the same scene), and the show went on.
And yeah, I’m comparing a musical with a straight play and maybe it’s like comparing apples and oranges and I shouldn’t do it, but you know what? If that is the case, then it’s one more reason for me to prefer musicals to plays. At least I’m going to get what I paid for.